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Extreme savers share their secrets

"Saving money is, well, a passion of mine," Lynn Tostado says. "I've always kept my eyes out for creative ways to stretch a dollar."

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The Dover, N.H., accounting manager had a compelling reason to practice thrift. She and her husband helped put three kids through college.

"I really had to watch our pennies," she says.

These days, as the cost of food and gas skyrockets, credit becomes more difficult to get and consumer confidence reaches an all-time low, saving has become a must. Tostado's years of experience as a passionate saver stand her in good stead. She's hardly alone. There's a whole group of people who are passionate about saving without living a Spartan life.

Call them "uber savers."

Finding ways to save
1. Saving on retail
2. Groceries
3. Automobiles
4. Giving
5. Commuting & housing
6. Phone services & other necessities
7. Travel

1. Saving on retail
Michele Carter, a CPA and mother of two in Barrington, N.H., is a hawk about tracking sales prices on her purchases and asking retailers for the savings. For example, Carter keeps her Christmas gift receipts and, after the holiday, checks to see if retailers have slashed prices on any of the gifts she's already plunked under the tree.

Then she calls the merchant and, without returning the item, asks the store to refund the difference between her cost and the new sales price. She then gives the difference to the gift recipient.

"I once got my mother-in-law $60 back on a gift we purchased for her," she says.

Carter also claims the price guarantees offered by stores like Lowe's and Home Depot: If you find the same product for less elsewhere, you get the item for 10 percent off the lowest price.

"I have seen an ad for something I purchased, after the purchase, and I have been given the lower price," she says.

Keeping an eye on these promotions paid off recently when Carter bought a new refrigerator. After she saw an ad for the same refrigerator at a competitor's store, she netted close to $100 in savings with a single phone call. Her advice: Call, don't visit the store. In Carter's experience, a local store manager will always find a reason to say no.

Carter, an inveterate comparison shopper, also shops on home repairs. Recently, she bought a new Pella front door at Lowe's, spending $1,000 less than Pella's asking price. Then, rather than paying Lowe's $800 installation fee, she hired a local carpenter for $400 -- and paid that tab with the $400 tax credit she'll receive for installing the energy-saving door.

Stay-at-home mom Martha Andersen is an avid reader, as are her husband and her two children. Last year, Andersen, who lives in Durham, N.H., decided to spend only $4 per person on Christmas gifts.

She acquired most of her gifts through Paperbackswap.com, a site on which members can trade paperback and hardcover books for the cost of postage, and Daedalus, a discount book catalog that Andersen says offered "really nice gifts for less than $4." You can also swap CDs on SwapaCD.com and DVDs at recently launched SwapaDVD.com.

 
 
Next: He saves $500 a year on meat by purchasing whole animals ...
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